Historical Blog Series: Diller-Chamberlain Store

Monthly blog series to honor Redwood City’s past and celebrate the community’s history.

Welcome back to our Historical Blog Series! We are excited to share the rich history on our topic of the month the Diller-Chamberlain store!

THE DILLER-CHAMBERLAIN STORE

As San Mateo County’s oldest commercial building, the Diller-Chamberlain Store is highly significant. It is the sole remnant of Redwood City’s earliest days as a lumber town. Its 726 Main Street location reflects the importance of Main Street as the first major thoroughfare; its rear entrance faced Redwood Creek, which was the waterway used to float redwood logs to San Francisco during the Gold Rush — which is why the town began here. Throughout the years, the old brick store watched the town of Redwood City grow and develop around it.

The Diller-Chamberlain Store is one of four buildings that comprise the “Downtown Historic Commercial District” that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 — an honor for not only the store, but for all of Redwood City. It is also located within the Main Street Historic District and designated as a local historic landmark.

This location is also included in the Redwood City downtown historic walking tour. Tours happen periodically throughout the year so be sure to follow us to stay up to date on when they are. The next tour will be on Saturday, August 27 at 10:30am, beginning in front of the historic Lathrop House at 627 Hamilton Street. The tour will last approximately one hour and thirty minutes and will include many of downtown Redwood City’s historic buildings, including the Diller-Chamberlain Store. This tour is free to attend and no sign-ups are required. For more information go here.

ARCHITECTURAL DETAILS

J. V. Diller had this one-story brick building constructed in 1859 to house his general store. The building’s scale and straightforward composition of classical forms offer great visual interest. The store resembles the simple, classical, false-fronted brick commercial buildings built in the Mother Lode Country.

The exterior brick walls were painted during the 20th century and have since been restored. The front facade is symmetrically separated into thirds by four simple pillars, while classical architectural molding under the front eave gives it a unique look.

Unfortunately, because the building has undergone numerous alterations to its doors and windows, it is difficult to determine what of these features are original. Two tall and narrow windows with round arched upper lights can be found in the front and rear of the building. In the center of the front facade, similar paired doors lead the way inside.

The side facade, facing a vacant lot, features four matching windows covered by metal grates. The rear facade is similar to the front, having the three-part division and tall, arched, narrow windows on both ends. Original cast iron shutters cover both of these openings, an evident original detail. In the center is a large entryway edged by thick wood beams.

STORE OPERATIONS AND REMODELS

In 1875 Diller’s general store building served as the Wells Fargo Express Agency until 1911. The actual business was owned and operated by a series of individuals and companies; it was not until November 1887 P. P. Chamberlain purchased the building from the Diller estate, making him the second owner of the building. Chamberlain as County Treasurer kept the County’s funds in a 6,500-pound iron safe in the rear of the store. Chamberlain added a sidewalk veranda in June 1887 to enhance the store’s charm.

The store was damaged in the 1906 earthquake; a portion of the south parapet snapped off, leaving the flat roof exposed. To restore the building, the bricks were replaced, the exterior was cleaned and the trim repainted.. After the store closed its mercantile business in 1916, the building was used for a plethora of unique businesses. During World War I the building served as a classroom for an aviation school. Throughout the 1920’s it was used as a garage. In 1938 James and Gertrude Quong Lee converted and remodeled the building into a laundromat. The remodel included “modernizing” the front facade with regular store windows and moving the entry to the left; Only the center front arch and fanlight remained, while the rear facade was less disturbed.

The building suffered damage in the 1989 earthquake and was subsequently seismically retrofitted. The facade was then restored to its original 1859 appearance.

REDWOOD CITY’S 150TH ANNIVERSARY COMING SOON

Follow this blog to learn more about the fascinating history of Redwood City. We’ll keep these posts coming monthly. By following, you’ll also keep up with news and details preceding Redwood City’s 150th anniversary coming soon in May of 2017.

To learn more about Redwood City history, visit our website here.